Monday, January 12, 2009

The Road 'Few' Traveled

A NexTag ad I saw on Yahoo today entices readers to "Earn a Degree in as Few as Two Years!"

How does this happen? Most likely, some copywriter wanted to write as "in as little as two years" then, half-remembering something a teacher had once said about "few" and "fewer" being more proper, decided to play it "safe."

Bad call.

"As little as two years" sounds better for a reason: It is better. "As few as two years" emphasizes years as two individual units. "As little as two years" suggests a span of time, which is probably what was intended. Besides, "as little as" is a well-known figure of speech (12.4 million Google hits) while "as few as" is less common (1.6 million hits) and therefore less natural sounding.

The lesson: Your ear is a usually better guide than some vague half-recollection of some supposed rule. The natural choice is often the best choice.

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LoopdiLou said...

It could also be due to the character limitations set on their ads, though they probably could have managed to cut it out elsewhere.

June Casagrande said...

Hmm. Good point. Though "under two years" or "two years or less" would have seemed more likely cut-it-short candidates.

Still, I used to write headlines for a community newspaper, so I know how irksome those characters-per-line issues can get.

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

Yes. You remind me of those who offer the hyper-correct (mind if I drop that hyphen?) "I feel badly."

June Casagrande said...

Yeah, that's probably the most common one of all. It always strikes me as somehow unfortunate.


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